The Secularization of the Church 

Issues, Etc. Transcript
Transcript of June 29, 2004 Broadcast
Guest - Dr. Laurence White, Our Savior Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas

with host
Todd Wilken

WILKEN:  Greetings, and welcome to Issues, Etc.  I'm Todd Wilken.  Thanks for tuning us in.

Tonight we're going to be talking about the secularization of the church.  What do you think about when you hear that term—the secularization of the church?  I know what you think about; you think mostly about the church being compromised in its morals or its values.  Well—and that's true—the church has been compromised to a certain degree and secularized in its morals and its values.  But tonight we're gonna talk about a different way that the church is being secularized—a way that you may not think about.  Now, even if your church—the congregation you go to on Sundays or in the midweek—hasn't compromised on its morals or values with the culture, it might've compromised in the way that we're talking about tonight.  The secularization of the church—compromised with psychology, with marketing, with technology, compromised with the culture. 

Is the church in danger of simply fading into the background of the culture and offering nothing more than what you can already find on television or in the movies or in the psychologist's office?  We're gonna talk about that tonight.  Dr. Laurence White is our guest. 
Now, we're not gonna be able to take your phone calls in this first hour, but we will be taking them in the next hour of Issues, Etc., so write this number down and give us a call an hour from now:  1-800-730-2727.  Or post a question or a comment on the secularization of the church at our Issues, Etc. Forum.  You can find it at our Web site:  Look under the "What's New" section.  The forum is there for your questions or your comments. 

Our guest this evening, Dr. Laurence White.  He's senior pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, and a regular guest here on Issues, Etc.  Dr. White, welcome back to Issues, Etc.

WHITE:  Thank you, Todd.  It's a pleasure and a privilege to be with you once again.

WILKEN:  Let's jump right in with something that I hear so often.  You can hear it from the likes of John Shelby Spong, one of the most liberal theologians in the world.  You also hear from many people within the church.  The phrase is, "The church must change or die."  What's usually meant by this, and how does this indicate the secularization of the church?

WHITE:  Well, I think as with any slogan, Todd, you know the problem with slogans is that they distort and misrepresent the substance of very complicated issues.  As I hear those words, "the church must change or die," my response initially—instinctively—would be, if the church changes, then it deserves to die, because the church is about the changeless realities of God amid the ever-changing circumstances of the world. 

What's happening in the church today, in the modern church here in the United States perhaps more than at any other time in the history of Christianity, is that we have become a consumer-oriented, people-centered institution that has transformed the nature of what it means to be the church.  From the days of the Reformation in the Lutheran church and well prior to that throughout the history of Christendom, the biblical—the Scriptural—insight was restored and renewed that the church is the community of God's people gathered together around the Divinely instituted and ordained means of grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  And what gives the church its vitality, what gives the church its power, what determines its identity, and establishes its relevance in the world is that it is the conveyor, the custodian, if you will, of those means of grace—the changeless message of the Gospel in the ever-changing circumstances of the world. 

"Change and decay and all around I see," as the hymn says, "O, Thou, who changes not, abide with me."  That's been the strength of the Christian church.  And if we forfeit that in favor of what's trendy or modern or up-to-date, then we don't deserve to play a significant role in the lives of people or in modern culture.

WILKEN:  Dr. White, we hear that phrase, "the church must change or die," not only from the classic liberal, like the John Shelby Spong, we hear it from advocates of the Church Growth movement a lot!  Within the church, how has and how could our listener recognize if their church has been influenced by the Church Growth movement—this mentality, "the church must change or die"?

WHITE:  Well, I think the key—the hallmark—of this entire approach to the life of the church is a subtle but fundamental shift in focus.  Once we are no longer talking about God and His Word and instead of that historical, traditional, biblical focus of the church, instead we begin to talk about man and his needs, or man and what he's doing at this moment, then the shift has taken place.  And the change from the biblically defined nature of the church as the community of God's people gathered together around the means of grace becomes a man-centered, consumer-oriented, result-focused human institution, just like everything else going on in this world all around us.  And so as John Q. Average pew-sitter listens to what's going on within his own congregation, that's what we need to listen for.  Are we talking about God?  Are we talking about His Word?  Are we talking about the changeless truth of that Word and the possibilities that that truth brings to the lives of fallen sinners like us?  Or are we talking about me, myself and I, and what I want, what I see, what I feel, what I think, what I need—with that first-person personal pronoun being the operative word in every instance?  Then that subtle but insidious change is taking place within—and as you've pointed out, Todd, it can happen across the theological spectrum. 

What we do in a conservative church body like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is we begin to try and make distinctions between style and substance, and we talk about changing the externals while maintaining the essence without observing or realizing or recognizing the indissoluble connections between those things.  We use those slogans and glib distinctions to conceal the truth perhaps even from ourselves. 

WILKEN:  Let's break this down into some parts here.  We'll talk about preaching and worship, the pastoral office, Bible class, even architecture in the church which I know is a subject near and dear to your heart.

WHITE:  Yes, indeed, it is.

WILKEN:  First of all, with preaching.  What should we be hearing in the church?  What should be preached in the church, and how has preaching today in the church been secularized in the way that we're talking about?

WHITE:  Well, I think we can see the trends we've been describing graphically and devastatingly influenced and evidenced in what's happening in contemporary preaching. 

When the sermon becomes more an exercise in oratorical flourish by the preacher, it's a series of catchy stories and touching human interest events, rather than a faithful, consistent exposition of the content of the Word of God, then that shift has occurred. 

Now, the temptation for the preacher is that those kinds of sermons—those kinds of people-oriented, anecdote-focused, feeling-centered preaching, that's easier and it's more popular!  The people like that, and you don't have to work quite so hard!  You don't have to do the solid textual work that is required in biblical preaching, and you get a better response from the people in your pews in your church.  So, the temptation on the part of the preacher is very difficult to resist. 

For the listener, for the member of the congregation who's out there in the pew during the service, the attraction of that kind of preaching is that it's consistent with everything else they're hearing in their lives.  And church, preaching, worship, becomes just one more form of entertainment, just one more form of passive please me, titillate me, engage me, interest me—again the first-person personal pronoun being the operative word. 

And so the temptation comes not only to the preacher but also to the listener to shift away from the solid, objective truth of the Word of God, meticulously working through a biblical text, word by word and phrase by phrase, to determine with clarity and with power what God is saying to me and my life and my circumstances and my feelings and my needs, and it all becomes very superficial and very trite and ultimately powerless for both the preacher and the listener.

WILKEN:  With one minute before our break, Dr. White, what about what the church sings—its worship?  How has that been secularized?

WHITE:  Again, we see the same patterns at work.  If we look at the historic chorals of Lutheranism, the great hymns of the Reformation, or go beyond them into the classic hymns of Christendom in the days prior to the Reformation, what characterized those hymns of the church was that they were biblical.  They were solid.  They were content-oriented.  They had substance.  There was real spiritual meat there drawn from the Scriptures.  It was not sentimental.  It was not superficial.  It was biblical in its essence and its meaning, so that they hymns of the church became the way that in music, in song, we confessed what we believed, we affirmed our faith, and we expressed that faith.  And the music was written in such a way that it became a servant of that profession and affirmation—all with solid substance—not designed to titillate and to entertain or to thrill—but to express the convictions of the people of God based upon the Word of God.  That's what characterized the great hymns of the Reformation and the great hymns of the classic church and the contemporary church.  Is it substance based on Scripture, or is it mere fluff and emotion focused on the individual?

WILKEN:  Dr. Laurence White is our guest.  We're talking about the secularization of the church in a way that you may not have heard this subject discussed before.  He's senior pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. 

When we come back, we'll continue to break it down piece by piece.  We talked about what we hear preached, and what we sing; what about who the pastor has become as the church has been secularized by marketing, psychology, feminism, consumerism?  What's happened to Bible study?  What's happened to our church architecture?  We'll talk about all of that after this.


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Dr. Laurence White is our guest.  We're talking about the secularization of the church.  Dr. White, what has become of the pastor as the church has been secularized in this way—compromised by marketing, psychology, feminism, consumerism?

WHITE:  The role of the pastoral office in our churches has been subtly, insidiously but definitely affected by all of this.  As we look at the biblical definition of the pastoral office—that understanding of the role of the pastor as it was reinforced and reiterated in the Reformation of the 16th century—we find there the pastor viewed as God's spokesman to God's people—the advocate of the Word—the personification in that sense of the Word and Sacrament ministry of the church—and that has been historically what defines the pastor and his role within the congregation.

Now, what's happened in the modern church as the institution of the church has become more specialized and more secularized—to use the word that you used earlier in this broadcast—we become more like the world all around us in that pastors have come to be viewed like any other service professional.  And what the substance of that change is, again, the same shift we've been talking about in terms of preaching, in terms of hymns and worship—the shift from God and His Word to people and their needs.  And the pastor becomes one more service professional who is dabbling in this and dabbling in that, but his role as the advocate of the Word, the custodian of the Word, the defender of the Word, has been minimized, trivialized, and in many cases lost altogether. 

As we study the history of the great churches of the Lutheran Reformation, we find that what defined pastors in those churches is that they were the men of the Word, the men of the Sacraments, that the core and the essence of their ministry was centered around Word and Sacrament, that they spent their time not running from this program to that, not administering this part of the institution or the other, but studying, teaching, preaching, applying the Word of God.  They were students of that Word.  They were enmeshed in that Word and enveloped by it, and everything they did flowed directly from that ministry of the Word.

That's how the change has taken place among us.  As we've gotten more and more caught up in this secular program, and this worldly trend, and that latest fad, and the preacher runs from this seminar to that seminar—none of which have anything to do with biblical theology or studying the Word of God.  That's why in the traditional pastoral education programs of our Synod, the emphasis was on learning the biblical languages so that you could work with the text of Scripture in its original so that you could be the one in that congregation who stood for, who advocated, who affirmed, who proclaimed, who applied the Word of God.  That's what the pastoral office among us has been about, and that's changing dramatically and drastically.

WILKEN:  Dr. White, does this explain in part why Bible study—be it a kind of a larger corporate Bible study or a small group Bible study—has become more about what the text means ‘to me' rather than what the text ‘means'? 

WHITE:  Well, you know, again Todd, that's part and parcel of what's going on within our culture.  I suspect that we have more Bible classes—so called—going on within the congregations of the Missouri Synod than we ever had before!  But I also suspect that there is less actual wrestling with the text with the individual words and phrases of the Bible going on in the congregations of our church than there ever has been before.  As you just said, those Bible studies are about ‘my feelings' and ‘my opinions' and ‘my perspective' and ‘how do I see it?' and ‘what does the text say to me?—the emphasis on me—not on the text.  And that's what has come to pass for Bible study among us, and that is a direct result of what's happening in the culture.  As tolerance is a way of life has become the watch-word—the slogan—of our entire society, tolerance is a way of becoming indifference to the truth and to the Word of God and the truth of God's Word. 

If we wrestle with the text of Scripture, a good deal of that message is not going to be comfortable for us, because the biblical message is not just sweet trendy Gospel; it is Law and Gospel!  And a realistic teaching based on Scripture about who man is and what he has done, and what God has done to save man from the depths to which he has sunk because of his sin, is not a popular message; it's not an easily received message; it's not an easily implemented message in life; and so we opt out.  We take the easy way out and focus on our own feelings, on our own opinions, on our own preferences.  And those preferences, those personal values then take the place of the sword of truth.  If truth is nothing more than personal conviction and association, then my personal relationships, my personal perspective becomes the paramount consideration.  And that's what's happened in much of what passes for Bible study within our church.  We get our materials on the general market which is affected by the general culture, which is all about tolerance and individual opinion and individual identity.  And we don't come right out and say it, but what it all means—the bottom line is that we've given up on truth!  The pluralism of our culture has led us to conclude that not only does every American have the right to believe whatever they want to believe, but more subtly and more immediately we've concluded it doesn't make any difference what you believe, because every man is his own arbiter of what is true for him.  That's a denial of the Bible, that's a denial of the Gospel, but we don't often recognize that.

WILKEN:  Dr. Laurence White is our guest.  We're talking about the secularization of the church. 

He mentioned there near the end of his comment—pluralism.  It is another way that the Christian church has become secularized.  There are people in the church today, folks, who will confess either, that all religions worship the same god, or they might nuance it and say, "Well, all monotheistic religions—the respectable monotheists, like, Christians, Jews and Muslims—they worship the same god."  Is that true?  Well, I address that very issue in the next edition of the Issues, Etc. Journal.  I've written an article titled, "Mere Monotheism," and we'd like to send you a free copy of that Issues, Etc. Journal

Now, we're going to mail this next issue with that article in it very shortly, so call during this break in order to receive a free copy of the next Issues, Etc. Journal.  1-800-737-0172.  Call during this break, and ask for a free copy of the next Issues, Etc. Journal

When we come back with Dr. Laurence White, something near and dear to his heart—the church building—its architecture.  So, here's the question for the other side:  What can we see about the secularization of the church in the way that the church now builds its buildings and its worship spaces?  We'll be right back.


WILKEN:  Next week on Issues, Etc., we're going to discuss Modern Fascism with Dr. Gene Edward Veith of World Magazine.  Now, fascism was supposedly defeated militarily in World War II; but how are ideas like the disregard for moral objectivity, the exaltation of the states, and even the employment of thought control still flourishing today among us?  We'll talk about next week on Issues, Etc. with Dr. Gene Edward Veith.

Now, if you'd like to know what we're going to be discussing on Issues, Etc. for the rest of July, check out our Web site:  While you're there at the Web site, be sure to find out more about our Issues, Etc. Book of the Month for June.  It's the Concordia Commentary on Leviticus

Now, the secularization of the church is our subject here.  Dr. White has already pointed it out—where is the solution to be found to this secularization, this influence of the culture?  In God's Word!  The solution is there in God's Word.  God's Word, line by line, word by word, studied seriously, studied, read, inwardly digested, preached and proclaimed—that's what we're trying to encourage with an Issues, Etc. Book of the Month like we have for June—the Concordia Commentary on [the Book of] Leviticus.

Now, you can browse before you buy the book at our Web site:  Go to the "What's New" section; or you can call Concordia Publishing House any weekday during regular business hours.  Their toll-free number:  1-800-325-3040.  When you call, make sure you mention Issues, Etc. and our book of the month for June, the Concordia Commentary on Leviticus.

Dr. White, sometimes the first exposure to the church is simply its building.  I've read a lot lately in journals about people writing—very impressed with the new way of building churches—the open forum, the auditorium, the technology that seems to be woven into everything—plasma screens, you name it.  We are very often enamored of the technology.  Let's talk about the architecture and what we can learn about the secularization of the church in the way we're talking about it, by how the church builds its building.

WHITE:  Well, I think you're exactly right, Todd, when you assert that the manner in which we design our church buildings is an expression of our perspective on God and our understanding of worship.  That has always been true throughout the history of Christendom. 

When we here at Our Savior went about building a new sanctuary a few years ago, we did some rather detailed study of historical church architecture.  And we found that, particularly in the era of the Reformation, when the sola Scriptura principle of the Lutheran Reformation came to be embodied in the way Lutherans build churches, what we found was a rather dramatic shift from the historic Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages to a design for churches which more concretely, which more specifically expressed and facilitated the biblical understanding of Christian worship as Gottesdienst, to use the German word—Divine service—in which the people of God are a community gathered together around Word and Sacrament.

You know, the great Gothic churches were performance centers in which the action was done by the clergy—by the priest—at the altar in which the congregations were nothing more than distant observers who received the benefits simply by being present without any participation as such in the worship service itself. 

For Lutherans, that changed dramatically!  As we came to understand once again the biblical truth that this is about God, the God who comes to His people in Word and Sacrament, as He speaks to us and we respond, and it is about biblical preaching based in that Word and participation in the Sacraments which He has established, and as we look at the Lutheran churches that are built in the first and second generations after the Reformation, we see these changes—this dramatically altered perspective implemented! 

You know, the original Lutheran churches—the Castle Church in Wittenberg, for example—these weren't built by Lutherans.  These were built by Catholics before the Reformation simply taken over by Lutherans!  And so if you want to look for Lutheran theology in church building design, you've got to go to the generations that follow the Reformation, and there we find a significant alteration in that the long cruciform naves of the Gothic churches are replaced by church buildings that bring the architectural representations of the means of grace—that is, the Baptismal font for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the altar for the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and the pulpit into the central access of the church so that that's what we gather around, so that the pastor as he preaches from the pulpit in many cases was literally preaching over the altar.  And in one of the unique Lutheran contributions to church architecture was the development of what again was called in German the Kanzelaltar—the pulpit altar in which the pulpit and the altar literally came out of the same structure with the pulpit rearing up behind and over the altar—the altar being the symbol of God's presence in the midst of His people thereby telling us visually, physically, concretely that the Word the pastor is preaching is not his word—it's not his opinion—it's not his take on what's happening today—but it's God Word based on part and parcel of the Scripture.  And what happened is the whole configuration of the churches changed! 

So here at Our Savior, for instance, we modeled our church after the great Frauenkirche in Dresden, which is now being rebuilt—George Barr's magnificent Lutheran church built there is the great city of Dresden—and more specifically on the Bergkirche—the mountain church in the little village of Seiffen up in the Erzgebirge just outside of Dresden where they took an octagon—an eight-sided shape—and put those architectural representations of the means of grace down the central access of that church so that they were the focus of everything that happened in that church.

WILKEN:  Dr. White, you walk into a lot of churches nowadays and there's the big screen.  And you'll see the praise band projected up there, or the pastor while he's preaching, or the skit that's going on up there.  You talked about that Gothic era of being a performance center.  Has the secularized church gone backward to that Gothic era and made itself again architecturally just a performance center?

WHITE:  Well, I think that's exactly correct.  And all we're doing here is following the culture.  We're aping the antics of the worldly.  Our churches are becoming more and more like theaters.  And it's difficult when you go into many churches today—unfortunately, when you go into many Lutheran churches today—it's difficult to tell the difference between the sanctuary of the church and the theater down on the corner in the multiplex where they're showing the latest movies, because it's all about passive entertainment using flash and glitter to replace the substance of the Word of God!

This isn't about new technology verses traditional methods.  It's about where is your focus?  Is your focus on the Word?  And there are many ways within the new technology that we have today that we can use that technology to sharpen the focus and to find new ways to convey that solid, biblical, substantial message to the people.  But all too often I'm afraid, Todd, that the style becomes the substitute for the substance!  And it's all glitz and glitter—all—to use a good Lutheran image—it's all foam and no beer when you get right down to it!

WILKEN:  Dr. Laurence White is our guest—senior pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas.  We're talking about the secularization of the church.

As I said, we won't be taking your phone calls during this hour.  But I want you to write this number down and call us in about 20 minutes for the second hour:  1-800-730-2727. 

I want to use the balance of the program with you, Dr. White, to have your response to several—they're slogans—they're catch phrases that we hear often in the church that seem to indicate the secularization of the church.  Here's one that we hear often, picking up off the old Oldsmobile commercial:  This isn't your grandfather's church.  What is this trying to say, and how does it indicate the secularization of the church?

WHITE:  Well, I think again, as we have seen throughout our discussion, Todd, in every dimension of what we've talked about, whether it was preaching, or the pastoral office or worship, or hymns, or architectural style, the problem with the slogan, This isn't your grandfather's church, is that, while that's true, but it's distortion.  It's not our church, either!  It wasn't my grandfather's church a generation or two ago, and it's not my church today!  In every generation it's God's church!  This isn't about whether it's new or old, contemporary or traditional.  It's about whether the focus in on God and His Word, God and His means of grace in Word and Sacrament, or me and what I like or what I want.  This isn't about whether you are conservative and traditional, doing it the way they did it back in the 1890s or the 1920s, using the Kings James Version and traditional music, or whether it's modern and trendy and up to date.  It's about God and His Word, or me and my feelings.  Where is the focus?  Where is the thrust?  Because it never has been my church in any generation.  It wasn't mine or my grandfather's or my great-grandfather's, nor will it be my son's or my grandson's church.  It's God's church in every generation and that must be the focus of all that we do.  That must be the determining factor.

WILKEN:  With less than a minute here before we have to take a break, what's the danger of the church divorcing—the church of today divorcing itself from the church of history?  With less than a minute.

WHITE:  Well, again, our fathers with a profound sense of personal humility believed that we could learn from the past both positively and negatively.  They looked at what those who had gone before them had done.  They learned from their mistakes, and they learned from their successes.

Modern man comes at this with the arrogant assumption that we know more today than any people in any place have ever known before, and therefore there's nothing we can learn from them.  And so we have a profound disdain for history.  And that arrogance is the proverbial tide which cometh before the fall.  We're just dooming ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past over and over and over again.

WILKEN:  Dr. Laurence White is our guest.  Folks, what you're hearing now is a recording from earlier this week with Dr. White on the secularization of the church.  But we will be taking your phone calls live in the next hour on this very same subject.  Call now:  1-800-730-2727.  The phone lines fill up very quickly.  The best callers will receive the book, Testing the Claims of Church Growth.  And we'll also be responding to your e-mail next hour live from the Issues, Etc. Forum.  The Web site:  Under the "What's New" section, you'll find the Issues, Etc. Forum. 

When we come back, we're going to conclude our conversation with Dr. White, talking about several more of those catch phrases of the secularized church.  What about this one?  We hear about it all the time, and he's even mentioned it already:  We're gonna have Evangelical style but Lutheran substance.  Or, How is the secularized church today making a false distinction between the church's message and the church's mission? 

Is it Scriptural to pit the mission against the message?  Is it Scriptural to put the mission before the message?  We'll talk about that with Dr. Lawrence White next.


WILKEN:  We're talking about the secularization of the church with Dr. Laurence White.  Now, you're gonna hear all the time on Christian radio programs of the secularization of the culture.  And we talk about that too here on Issues, Etc.  Next week we're going to discuss Modern Fascism with Dr. Gene Edward Veith.  But few will discuss the secularization of the church and in the way we're talking about it—not just its morals and its values—but also in its theology and, as Dr. Laurence White has pointed out so many times, its focus.  The church can be secularized by taking its focus off the cross—off the Christ!  That's what we're talking about during this hour.

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Dr. Laurence White is our guest.  Dr. White, let's take a few things in rapid fire so that we can fit it all in the time left to us. 

Evangelical style—Lutheran substance
—it's an old mantra.  How do you respond to it?

WHITE:  Well, again, like most slogans there's an element of truth but a significant oversimplification and thereby distortion.  Basically, our style is determined by and an expression of our substance.  Baptists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, all worship the way they do, all structure their churches the way they do, all carry out their Christian lives the way they do because of what they believe!  Their style is an expression of and an application of their substance.

What's happened in American culture is that as our world, as our lives have become more superficial, our style or our absence thereof has determined our substance.  We've got it backwards.  In the church, what we believe establishes what we do.  How we worship, how we build our churches, how we conduct our activities, how we structure our lives together as God's people, all of this is part of our style; but it is the application.  It is the expression of what we are, of what we believe.  It's not style or substance; it's style from substance.

WILKEN:  What about what we hear so often today about the mission of the church, almost to the point where there's a false dichotomy between the mission and the message, between getting the message out and the purity—the doctrinal purity of that message?  Your thoughts.

WHITE:  Absolutely.  It's frustrating to the point of madness, Todd, as we hear these things repeated over and over again—mission over message.  For Christianity the message is the mission!  "I was determined to know nothing about you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified," the apostle declares.  This is what we are about.  That message cannot change.  The mission is the message.  The message determines, defines, empowers the mission!  We can't separate them from one another.  We can't pit them against one another.  We certainly cannot elevate the mission over the message, or we end up with a mission that has no point, that has no relevance, that has no power!  This becomes an excuse to present a Gospel without substance, a message that is individually applicable with absolute truth that has no doctrinal content to it, that becomes nothing but empty nonsense like everything else in our lives.  The mission is the message.

WILKEN:  So often this secularization of the church that we've talked about here in this hour flies under the banner of a Bible passage—and its particular reading of this Bible passage.  It's where Paul talks about "becoming all things to all men."  Now, the secularized church says that means we do these things that we have been critiquing here, that means we do submit to the influence of psychology, of feminism, of marketing, and of consumerism especially.  That's how you become all things to all men, right?  You give the people what they want!  What does Paul really mean when he says, "I have become all things to all men"?

WHITE:  What the apostle is telling us is exactly the opposite of what has happened in our market-driven church today.  What Paul is saying is that the message of the Christian church, the Gospel of Christian faith, the message of Christ crucified is universal in that it transcends all personal preference, all national division, all ethnic difference, all differences in tastes and style and everything else.  It is universal because it is for everyone and, therefore, all of these personal peculiarities that involve different peoples, different cultures, different times, and different places—all of these become irrelevant.

As Paul who was steeped in a particular worship style and tradition and religious institution as the most faithful of the rabbis of Judaism lays all that aside in now the transcendent message of Jesus Christ for every person in every place in every time.  "All things to all men"—it can only be possible when the mission, the message, the ministry that we carry out is the Gospel of Jesus Christ—not a personal thing, not an individually dictated or determined reality—but the universal truth of a God who "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  And in that way we who are the church, we who are the pastors within the church, we who are God's people, His church in this place at this time are able to go beyond all of those individual peculiarities.  But that must be done on the basis of the solid substance of the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If that does not happen, then we remain subject to the whims and the fancies and the trends and the fashions of whatever is happening in our part of our culture right now.

WILKEN:  Dr. Laurence White, I thank you for your time and, again, for being our guest on Issues, Etc.

WHITE:  Todd, it is always a delight.  Thank you.

WILKEN:  Dr. Laurence White is senior pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas.

Now we've recorded this hour with Dr. Laurence White, but we will be live in the next hour taking your questions and your comments on the secularization of the church—the same subject.  Our guest will be Pastor Rod Zwonitzer.  He's author of the book called Testing the Claims of Church Growth.  So, call us during this break:  1-800-730-2727.  As usual, you can post your questions or your comments on our Issues, Etc. Forum as well.  You'll find it at our Web site:  Under that section called "What's New," you're gonna find the forum.

Now, again, you won't be able to hear this next hour on the radio; it's only on the Internet.  Go to our Web site.  You'll see the worldwide KFUO logo there.  Click on that.  We are broadcasting this next hour live.  It's Sunday night, June 27.  Write this number down.  Give us a call.  We'll be taking your phone calls after this break.  The best callers on this subject, the secularization of the church, will receive a free copy of that book I mentioned before, Testing the Claims of Church Growth.  We'll be talking with its author right after this break.

Something there that Dr. White said struck me; I wrote it down.  He talked about the church, "aping the antics of the worldly."  It's another way of talking about the secularization of the church.  I know we're accustomed to thinking about it in terms of our morals and our values, but maybe those are just symptoms.  Maybe the church has compromised its morals and its values because it's compromised something else first, because it's been secularized in a different, more profound, deeper, and really more important way, first.  Maybe the church has compromised its morals and its values with the culture because it's compromised its focus, its message, its center with the world.  Maybe it's aping the world's antics in morals and values because it's aping the world's antics in the way it thinks and speaks and sings and even builds its buildings.

We talk about it being Christ-centered, cross-focused.  That's not just a slogan, folks.  And that's nothing you'll ever get from the world.  That's really a statement about what the Christian faith is, what the church is, what the individual Christian is, what Scripture is:  Christ-centered, cross-focused.  When the church compromises that with the world, it can still hang onto its morals and its traditions and its values, but it will have nothing to offer a lost and condemned world—nothing to offer the sinner—nothing more than what the world can offer.  When the church holds fast to the cross, it can offer everything else—Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the sinner and eternal life in His name.

I'm Todd Wilken.  Thanks for listening to Issues, Etc.

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